Most months of the year, “sultry” and “Mediterranean” describe Tel Aviv impeccably, and the same words go a long way toward explaining how the city’s men dress.
Typically, less is more because “more” is a pesky cousin to dehydration under the hot Middle Eastern sun. Enter the chest-hugging cotton T-shirt, cargo shorts and sandals that together make up the relaxed, sartorial trifecta. If you’ve got the requisite gym hours behind your physique, that slapdash outfit will flatter it more than formal wear.
Yet, something new is afoot. When I purchased my trousers from Tel Aviv designer Doron Ashkenazi, I had no idea that everyone from public relations reps to public health staffers would shower me – or my pants – with compliments. The stretch slacks feature jodhpur-style seams on the top and chino features below the knee. I have one pair in khaki and another in black. Though I generally wear them while straddling a studio chair, I can imagine they’re just as fitting with a horse underneath.
“I try to design the kind of things that I would feel comfortable in myself,” Ashkenazi says, “and if I shy away from trends, I also look for unconventional patterns, colors and cuts.”
His small but bustling boutique on upper Dizengoff Street features a range of long-sleeved cotton dress shirts in both bright colors and khakis, with meticulous stitching and more than a few flared collars; more interesting trousers and variations on cargo shorts, as well as a range of more business-oriented attire.
“I reach into the past for each new collection,” he says.
At 53, Ashkenazi is a pioneer of men’s fashion in Israel, having studied in Italy and launched his first collection in 1989. He says it took Israelis a while to catch on fashion-wise, but contour-conscious tailoring for guys never went out of style.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., it was decades ago that chiseled cotton separates and chinos were staples of mainstream male fashion.
With that in mind, here’s a little field guide to finding your sexy inner Israeli he-fashionista, whoever you are and wherever you are in the world. It’s easier than you might think.
1. Take a blowtorch to your sock drawer.
This applies particularly if you are planning a trip to Israel or are already there. And even though you weren’t seriously contemplating wearing socks with your sandals, your socks really have no place in the pantheon of Israeli clothing items. Get a pedicure if you need to, but if ever there was a country where geography dictated the imperative of toes exposed, it’s Israel. Of course, there’s an exception. See No. 2
2. Buy a pair of wild shoes at Arama.
Not for the beach, but for nonsunkissed moments at trendy restaurants and clubs. Plus, a pair will jazz up those boring board meetings back home. Oded Arama is a 36-year-old shoe designer and graduate of Israel’s prestigious Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. Dress shoes in canary yellow, or peppermint pink with laces of Haifa Bay blue? It’s all there, artistically arrayed in his shop near Tel Aviv’s city hall.
3. Grab some cool T-shirts at Bancussi.
Kippa-clad Eran Bellely prints the kind of vintage-flavored, irony-inflected message tees primed to break a little ice. His shop, around the corner from Tel Aviv’s famous Gan Meir park, boasts a ’70s vibe to match. Usually all cotton and very comfortable to wear, too.
4. Skip the shuk and pay your respects to King David.
David Sassoon, that is. He’s the man, and his main Tel Aviv boutique is on Mohaliver Street, close by the bustling Carmel Market (Shuk HaCarmel). The jaunty vibe generated by playfully updated classics is what connects the dots between Tel Aviv’s menswear boutiques and the svelte Sassoon, of Syrian-Jewish extraction.
He began his career doing women’s clothes but now designs for men only, creating everything “as if it were something I would wear myself.” (If that echoes Ashkenazi, that’s no surprise: the two are friends.)
Sassoon insists that his clothes accentuate, not obscure, the high points of the male form.